No matter the time of year, a beach is always an excellent location for photos. Although there are many factors that go into making this type of setting work well in photographs: lighting and color being just two examples; it's often easy to overlook one important detail- camera lens quality! You may have attempted something similar but without success.
The good news? Aside from other elements like light or composition...It starts with your lens choice! In today’s article we will provide you detailed insight on what makes up a great beach photography lens as well as why certain lenses excel over others when photographing these types of scenes.
In this article, we're going to discuss:
By the end of this article you’ll have a better understanding of what makes a lens the best camera lens for beach photography, as well as valuable information to help you going forward.
First, let’s discuss the ideal beach photo.
Generally speaking, there are two types of beach photos.
One of them is a landscape. This is where the environment itself is the subject of the photo. These are those amazing photographs with the beautiful sunsets, soft color shifts from orange to pink to purple... and the extra-sharp sand in the fore-ground. Landscape images are some of the most beautiful in my opinion.
The other type of photo is the beach portrait. This can include wedding, engagement, event, product, etc. All of this centered around the beach.
These photos put your viewer right there on the beach. They can envision themselves there. Almost replacing the subject in your photo with themselves.
Both of these types of beach photos are very relevant and have their place. The reason I have created this section of this article is to address the fact this article and recommendations are geared toward both types.
You will notice as you read through the article that there are references to both types when needed. We’ve got you covered. Don't worry!
Why is focal length so important in beach photography?
I want you to image something. You're on the beach with a beautiful family, couple, single person - whatever first comes to mind. They've paid you a great deal to take and deliver them some amazing beach portraits.
You've been to the location before and know of a great spot along the shoreline next to some jagged rocks where waves crash and the sun sets, glistening off the water.
You direct the family (in this case) where to stand. Putting emphasis on staggering by height. You tell dad and mom to stand at the back - children to stand in the front with the kids holding their puppers ( two adorable Yorkies).
Everything is perfect and ready to go. You're so excited to take the picture and know they'll love it when they see it. You then get in position and look through the viewfinder....
That's when you know something isn't right.
What you're seeing through the viewfinder is nothing you had imaged or posed the client for. You struggle to try and figure it out (stressed even more by the fact you're trying to figure it out in the middle of a photo session).
What I will say, the most likely cause of this problem is, focal length.
Before thinking about composition and lighting, think about your focal length.
I say this because your focal length can drastically change composition (compared to one another) - and lighting can change along with it.
Example - your client (or landscape) is posing and you know you want the "look" that a 135mm gives you. Once you put the 135mm lens on the camera you notice you have to move them to get the right composition. As you move them, the direction of light changes slightly and you account for that as well.
You see, beach photos start with the focal length - and all other aspects (composition/framing, lighting, etc.) all work together from that point.
There are many other aspects of photography and lenses that we can take into account here - but that's just the basics. I have included the infographic to the right (or below if you're on a mobile device) - to better explain focal length and why it's so important.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when thinking about focal length while taking photos on the beach.
Once you answer those questions first - you'll be more prepared for your next and future shots.
Now we'll dive into the difference between prime lenses and zoom lenses, the benefits (and cons) of each. This way you'll know what works best for you for that perfect beach photo.
First off, we aren't going to dive too deep into the technical aspect of their differences. What we will cover is:
So, without further a-do, let's get started!
It is not uncommon for photographers to be confused by the difference between prime and zoom lenses. Zoom lenses are great because they allow you to change your focal length without changing your position, but this convenience comes with a cost: quality.
Prime lenses have been designed specifically for certain types of photography such as portraits or landscapes, so it's best to choose what type of lens you need before purchasing one specially for beach photography.
This is the question you need to ask yourself, seeing as the major difference between Primes and Zooms is the ability to zoom in and out.
Primes are fixed focal length, which means that they do not change even when you adjust the framing on a subject.
Zoom lenses allow for varying focal lengths by using two tubes of different sizes to magnify or reduce light: one tube moves inside another.
With zooms you can twist the barrel and reach towards your subject (and vice-versa). With primes, you have to physically move towards or away from your subject.
By "faster" we mean the aperture (or opening/element of the lens) is larger.
This allows in more light and will give you more bokeh or soft/blurriness to your background.
So if shooting beach photos at night is something you're interested in - and nice soft blurry backgrounds is as well - keep a prime in mind when looking for a beach lens.
But keep in mind. You won't be able to zoom in or out.
As stated before, speed or "slow" only relates to the size of the opening/element.
Generally speaking, zoom lenses don't open as wide as primes do. This limits the amount of light that can go through the lens compared to a prime. You also won't get as much bokeh/background blur.
But, what it lacks in those aspects, it gains in versatility. You're able to zoom in and out. You can reach toward and pull back from your subject without ever having to move.
Seeing as prime lenses are a single focal length - there is less glass for light to pass through.
This equates to your images being sharper.
Though, the difference may be subtle, this is one of main reason high end professional photographers use prime lenses.
One difference that many photographers never mention - are moving parts.
This is especially important when talking about the best camera lens for beach photography.
You see, a zoom lens has a barrel that turns and an outer element that moves back and forth. This is what allows you to zoom - physically moving parts.
The concern when taking photos on the beach is, sand. It's every camera owners worst nightmare. And as much as we try and prevent it, there is going to be a time when you get sand on something. This is a huge issue when sand enters the barrel of your zoom lens. It can be nearly impossible to remove, it can grind and catch the barrel, basically locking it. And 9 times out of 10 you have to send it off to get professionally cleaned.
On the flip side, assuming you're using an auto focusing prime - you never have to turn a barrel. Everything is fixed and is one single unit. Huge plus to primes in this aspect when it comes to using/choosing a lens to use on the beach.
The answer to "which one is better" comes down to what you need it for.
Will you want to take wide shots and narrow shots of the beach and some subjects? What landscapes - do you want just the wide angle or would you like closer shots as well?
Or do you like taking close, intimate, personal portraits of subjects on the beach? Do you see where this is going....?
It really does come down to what you need it for and if one will be better for you than the other. Personally, I rarely use zoom lenses for my work. I mainly shoot portraits of families and couples.
I use prime lenses for 90% of my work. I don't need to be as versatile as say, a wedding photographer. Primes give me the focal length I need and the low light/bokeh performance that my clients enjoy. I only use a zoom to hit 24mm ( I can't justify owning a 24mm prime, I don't use the focal length enough). That's maybe 10% of the year. I also don't take many landscape photos.
But again, that's just me. You're you, and you'll have to think and weight the pros and cons to make a real decision of whether one will benefit you over the other.
Next, we're going to move to the focal lengths themselves.
This is the focal range of many landscape photographers (and real estate photographers). This is very ideal for those looking to capture as much of the landscape and beach as possible. Don’t mistake this lens for only landscape though, you can get amazing wide angle portrait style shots with this as well.
This is a great focal range for wedding/event/engagement beach photos. It allows you to keep the subject in frame while capturing their surroundings.
Be mindful of distortion when photographing people on a wide angle lens. Keep them a fair distance away to maintain correct proportions. The closer someone gets to a wide angle lens (anything below 50mm in my option) The more distorted their features become (super long legs, narrow/stretched face/etc.)
Also, be careful not to lose your subject (if taking anything other than a landscape) - Be mindful that it becomes increasingly more easy to lose your subject the closer you are to the lower end of this focal length (below 24mm).
The lower end of this focal range (50-75mm) is very similar to the focal length our eyes see. This would make it very ideal for those taking portrait shots on the beach while capturing a bit of their surroundings while you’re at it.
When you dive into the 85mm to 100mm range, you’re stepping into the semi-telephoto look. This is where you can use compression of the foreground and background to make your photograph more engaging and grounded. You'll also lose nearly all forms of distortion on the body/face (85-100mm). It's a very natural focal range for the face.
This focal length is great for portraits. It does an amazing job of separating your subject from the foreground and background.
This focal range is great for capturing a single subject (or couple) and capturing the sunset behind them at the same time. All the while, separating them from their surroundings.
Do not mistaken this focal range for a portrait range, only. If you look at the photo to the right (or below on a mobile device), while it is somewhat of a portrait, it's more of a landscape on the beach, that happened to have a subject in it.
The same can be applied to a landscape on the beach without a subject in it. You'll need more room (stand further back) than you would on say a 24 or 35mm - but you'd be amazed at what compression can do to a landscape image.
For the longest time I never touched a focal length on the beach longer than 85mm.
I didn't like the idea of being restricted to such a deep focal length (I have always shot with primes, for the most part). That all changed when I made it my mission to do 5 consecutive photo sessions on the beach with a 135mm prime.
In the world of portraits - my beach sessions changed completely.
While you aren't able to capture as much of your surroundings as a wider focal length (standing in the same spot) - your photos become so more intimate and deliberate.
There is no question what your eyes should be focused on in the image.
On a wider angle lens (such as a 24mm) - if your composition and editing isn't spot on - your viewers eyes can wonder across the picture, not knowing exactly where they should be looking.
With a longer focal length (and lower aperture), there will be zero question.
Take the image to the right (or below on a mobile device). Clearly they're at the beach. You can see the water and sand at their feet, and the small waves crashing in the background.
But see how they "pop" off the picture? The same can be said about the image above (right below the title of this section) - the subjects pop off the page while all the other distractions are lost in the background.
This is only achieved with a longer focal length. The same thing can be said when talking about long focal length landscapes (focusing on a single aspect of a scene/landscape). The results will be the same.
The "winner" of this article may or may not surprise you - but the 24-70mm f/2.8 is regarded by countless photographers as the most versatile focal ranges on the planet.
The focal range of this lens hits 4 key focal lengths that are great for not only beach photography - but many others types of photography as well. These focal lengths include:
The reason I'm not recommending a prime over this zoom lens is because how versatile it is, how much it'll save you (in terms of money) over 4 different prime lenses, and how much money it can make you (if making money off of your photos is something you're into/interested in).
That's the amazing thing about this focal range - you can use it on nearly everything. This includes paid and no-paid work. Here are just a few other types of photography, other than strictly beach, that you can use the 24-70mm for:
Most wedding photographers, for instance, will wield two camera bodies. One body will have a 24-70mm - and the other one will be a prime (either a 100mm or a 135mm). But 9 out of 10 wedding photographers have use their 24-70mm at every single wedding.
You wouldn't want to use this lens for:
As you can see - while a 24-70mm f/2.8 (always opt for 2.8 over an f/4, for better low light performance) may be hefty in price - it pays for itself with what it's able to do. It's capabilities far outweigh its cost and what it's not capable of doing. Worth every single penny.
I have included a price-chart with the lowest price possible that still maintains manufactures warranty.
Many of the less expensive versions of the lenses that you find, on Ebay for instance, do not have a warranty attached to them. The ones below, do.
I have also included the Sigma version of this focal length for each manufacturer as well. You'll see the difference in price (pretty significant) - but don't let that fool you. The quality of their glass is top notch (I own 3 myself, and choose them over a major manufacture almost every time).
|Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM||$1,899.00|
|Sony FE 24-70 mm F2.8 G Master Full Frame||$1,998.00|
|NIKON NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S Standard for Nikon Z Mirrorless Cameras|
|Sigma 24-70mm F2.8 DG DN Art For SONY E MOUNT||$1,099.00|
|Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Art Lens for Nikon F (DSLR)(NOT Mirrorless/Z Mount)||$1,055.55|
|Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Art Lens for Canon||$1,099.00|
It wouldn't be right to announce the winner and leave it at that, would it? NO!
Let's discuss a couple other focal lengths that didn't make the cut for us, but could be the perfect fit for you!
Wait, didn't we announce the 24-70mm, the winner?
This is true, we did. But it was the f/2.8. The larger, heavier, and slightly better version.
While the f/2.8 is a stop faster than the f/4 - the f/4 version makes up for it in:
Yup - you read that right. $1000 less than the f/2.8 version. Give or take $100.
Image quality is about the same. Autofocus is about the same as well. The major downfall to the F/4 vs the F/2.8 is the aperture. You'll perform better in low light and have better bokeh/depth of field with the F/2.8 than you will with the f/4.
But again, did I mention you save $1000?
I've included a chart below (like the one above) that includes the best prices I could find. I will say - as of writing this article - I was not able to find a Canon 24-70mm F/4 from a reputable dealer. There are Japan imports - but they include no warranty (I do not include them in my articles).
I have included all of the others (Sony and Nikon)
This is a great contender for the top spot. You have a zoom range of 16s to 35mm. That’s ultra-wide to wide angle all in the same lens. You can achieve sharp, amazing, landscape shots of the beach with this lens.
The only reason this wasn’t the top choice is practicality and price.
I wouldn’t want to recommend this lens over a 24-70mm because you may find yourself not using the focal lengths below 24mm. Ultra-wide is a very distinct look. It has it’s time and place in photography, and that’s it (in my opinion).
You’ll find that if you attempt to use this lens with a subject (like a bride and groom) at a focal length below 24mm; your subject will be entirely too small. They’ll get lost in the photograph. This is very apparent if you shoot at 16mm.
BUT, if you are one those folks who NEEDS to have that ultra-wide angle in their back pocket - the 16-35 will fit right in.
Not only that - but there are some huge money making potential in the real estate, commercial, and local business realm with this lens. I know quite a few people, personally, that invested ~$2,000 on the lens and have made hundreds of thousands in return. Let that one sink in.
Now you know I couldn't talk about the F2.8 and not talk about the f/4.
As seen in the previous section, the small difference in aperture is a big plus for those trying to save money on their next beach photography lens.
It's no different for the 16-35.
But, let's be honest, you aren't purchasing this lens for subject separation/bokeh. You want to capture all of those details with a lens of this focal range.
Or at least I hope you are...
You can save close to $1000, and for that you lose a bit of light and depth of field.
I was torn between recommending the 35mm or the 24mm. 35mm sits in that sweet spot between 24mm and 50mm. You’ll get very similar results as a 24mm. They’re incredibly sharp lenses, can produce great bokeh (f/1.4 aperture), and all around amazing lenses. I’ve taken thousands of photographs on a 35mm prime.
But, you don’t get the wide angle look, in my opinion.
If it's a good or a bad thing, that's totally your call. It's all up to your own personal taste.
But for us, we love the look of a 35mm when capturing "wider" angle shots on the beach either with or without a subject.
It makes the subject and/or environment for so much more real.
I'm sure you've looked at a landscape and thought to yourself that something was off, but couldn't put your finger on it. Or you're the one that knows that the wide angle of the lens is what's causing the image to look so "wonky" (crazy stretched).
That's what the 35mm alleviates. You get a much wider look than a standard 50 or 85mm, but not too wide that the picture ends up looking wonky or fake.
I have included prices/links to the best version from each manufacturer, below.
|Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM||$1,799.00|
|Tamron SP 35mm f/1.4 Di USD Lens for Canon EF||$899.00|
|Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens for Canon EF||$684.95|
|Sony Distagon T FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA||$998.00|
|Sigma 35mm F1.4 Art DG HSM for Sony E||$689.00|
|Nikon AF FX NIKKOR 35mm f/1.4G|
|Tamron SP 35mm f/1.4 Di USD Lens for Nikon F||$899.00|
|Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens for Nikon F||$694.95|
I thought I would include more affordable options for the 35mm f/1.8
The one thing to keep in mind - the reason these lenses are so much cheaper - isn't the fact they are cheap. Actually, quite the opposite.
The Rokinon is made of metal (most lenses are plastic bodies) - and it's extremely durable.
The main downside (and reason it's so affordable) - is that it's manual focus. You'll have to focus everything on your own.
This save a lot of money by not having to have sensors and motors built into the lens to allow it to do that.
If you feel comfortable with manually focusing (or learn how to do it really well), pick one up! If not, you should look at other 35mm lenses.
As you can see, there are many different types of beach photography. From landscapes to portraits, there is a large need to fill between those types.
That’s why the 24-70mm is the most recommended. You can fill nearly all aspects of beach photography in a single lens. All of this while producing incredibly sharp, bokehlicious images.
So, imagine yourself on that beach again. Image everything is ready to go and you slap on a 24-70mm and start firing that shutter. Your images will be amazing. That could be your weakest link, your lens.
Leave any other questions, feedback, and suggestions below – we love hearing from you all!
Until next time, take care and stay safe out there!